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Question

“The best school of democracy and the best guarantee for its success is the practice of local self-government”. Critically analyse, how the introduction of minimum educational qualifications to contest Panchayat elections affecting the very spirit of democracy


Solution

Approach
  • Highlight the importance of local self-government in democracy.
  • Mention positive and negative consequences of the introduction of minimum educational qualifications to contest Panchayat elections.
If democracy means people's participation in running public affairs, then it is nowhere more direct, clear and significant than at the local level, where the contact between the people and their representatives is more constant, vigilant and manageable. Lord Bryce said: "The best school of democracy and the best guarantee for its success is the practice of local self-government" . Decentralization is a prime mechanism through which democracy becomes truly representative and responsive.

Consequences of Educational Qualification as criteria for local self government

Positive:
  1. Good Candidates: the law will help to find “model representatives for local self-government for better administrative efficiency.”
  2. Better Administration : As Justice Chelameswar said, "It is only education which gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad. Therefore, the prescription of an educational qualification is not irrelevant for better administration of the panchayats."
  3. Better Decision Making: Usually uneducated or illiterate members/chairpersons at local levels are easily manipulated by the officials. The chances of educated members getting manipulated by the officials are very less. This means that it will lead to better decision making.
Negative:
  1. Right to contest: Fundamentally, it unduly restricts a citizen’s right to contest elections and thereby challenges the basic premise of republican democracy.
  2. Right to Vote: Denying the right to contest effectively restricts the right of a citizen to vote for a candidate of her choice since more than half the population is restricted from contesting. Further, it disproportionately disenfranchises the more marginal sections of society: women, Dalits and poor.
  3. Unequal Access to Education: In a country like India with unequal access to education, it is cruel to blame citizens for the failure of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligations. Also in rural areas, Girls Education is not given a priority so it will make more than half of the women ineligible to contest elections.
  4. ill-informed assumption: This is based on an ill-informed assumption that those with formal education will be better in running panchayats. There are plenty of examples of Leaders who were not educated but they were very good leaders and administrators.
  5. Against 73rd/74th Constitutional Amendment Act: This approach goes against the very objective of the 73rd and 74th Amendments that sought to make panchayats and municipalities representative institutions with adequate representation from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and women.
  6. Vacant Posts: it is now visible from reports that many posts going vacant or unopposed in the states mandating educational qualification as a criterion as most people do not qualify. For eg: In Rajasthan, this is clearly visible. In 2015 after the first two phases of polling, seven posts of sarpanches were lying vacant and 170 were elected unopposed.
  7. Fake documents: It may give rise to illegal groups as people who want to contest but couldn’t because of educational qualifications may try to procure these documents through illegal routes. Many times police have arrested a gang of people who have reportedly sold fake marks sheets and Transfer Certificates to those aspiring to contest.
India prides itself as a robust democracy, at least in the procedural sense, with regular elections and a smooth transfer of power. Introduction of provision prescribing certain minimum educational qualification criteria as one of the qualifications for a candidate to contest the election has a reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved. But at the same time, we should take other ground realities into consideration before placing such restrictions as it is not only the lack of contestants but also the lack of choices which is unhealthy and killing the spirit of democracy.

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